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Reducing the Risk of Human Extinction

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the doing-the-numbers dept.

Earth 399

wiredog sends in a study from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Center For Biosecurity, assessing risks of human extinction and the costs of preventing it. "In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity. The probability of these events may be very low, but the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future human lives."

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Why bother? (5, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762379)

If we all die off, nobody is going to be around to lament the fact that we're gone.

Re:Why bother? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25762399)

Speak for yourself, human.

Re:Why bother? (5, Informative)

gnick (1211984) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762677)

Sorry, human or not we're all doomed. Deal with it.
The Last Question [multivax.com]

Re:Why bother? (4, Informative)

gnick (1211984) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762745)

Sorry - I should have credited that. Short story by Isaac Asimov dealing with the end of life everywhere written in 1956.
Here's the wiki for anyone who just wants the gist without reading all 5 or 6 pages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Question [wikipedia.org]

Re:Why bother? (5, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762449)

If we all die off, nobody is going to be around to lament the fact that we're gone.

Not true, as I have programmed Lamentobot for exactly this purpose, and his nuclear heart will ensure that he will be around to cry over the passing of human kind should we be wiped out any time in the next twenty thousand years.

Re:Why bother? (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762765)

Why is everything centralized around a single point of failures?

Because that's where you put the meter.

Why is all of humanity on the brink of extinction?

Because that's how you make them continue to pay.

How can we reduce the risk of human extinction?

Think about it...

Re:Why bother? (3, Funny)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762865)

I've thought about it, and what I came up with was the following: Meter? What? Huh?

Re:Why bother? (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763127)

I've thought about it, and what I came up with was the following: Meter? What? Huh?

Think harder. You can figure this out. I have faith in you. Billions wouldn't, but I do.

As Rob Schneider would say...

You can do it!

Re:Why bother? (1)

JayAitch (1277640) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762453)

Except for this guy. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25762763)

Wait.... don't you mean this guy....? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:KeithR2.JPG [wikipedia.org]

Re:Why bother? (1)

NuclearError (1256172) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763179)

No, this guy. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Why bother? (2, Insightful)

ZarathustraDK (1291688) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762521)

That's like the evil twin of the anthropic principle. Good one.

Re:Why bother? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25762609)

If we all die off, nobody is going to be around to lament the fact that we're gone.

Obviously you haven't thought this completely through. Have you considered that the most likely cause of our extinction will be the invention of artificial intelligence robots that need to burn humans for fuel? Of course you haven't. Nobody does. The fools!

(and yes, the robots will lament the fact that they can no longer use carbon rich bipods for fuel)

Re:Why bother? (1)

riceboy50 (631755) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763361)

You must not have seen the movie AI [imdb.com] .

No problem! (3, Funny)

serutan (259622) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762397)

As long as we can round up a hardy crew of misfits and renegades and train them to be astronauts, we can handle anything!

Re:No problem! (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762485)

What about middle managers, hairdressers, telephone sanitizers, etc.?

Re:No problem! (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762585)

We need more, just look at what happened to the Golgafrinchans when they got rid of them.

Re:No problem! (1)

dontthink (1106407) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762601)

Ship them off on the B-Ark. Although we then have to deal with the prospect of being wiped out by a virulent disease spread by dirty telephones...

Grey goo (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762417)

With the rise of nanotech, grey goo has always been a popular vision of the end of the world. After recently reading Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep [amazon.com] , however, what I'm more scared of is the combination of nanotech and AI that would reduce human beings to mere drones of a hive mind. Is the human race still human if it's subjugated to the will of our future digital overlords?

Re:Grey goo (1)

serutan (259622) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762623)

I think of the liability litigation industry as a form of grey goo.

Re:Grey goo (4, Insightful)

Chyeld (713439) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762691)

I'm more scared of is the combination of nanotech and AI that would reduce human beings to mere drones of a hive mind. Is the human race still human if it's subjugated to the will of our future digital overlords?

More to the point, does it matter?

Is there a point to clinging to what we are now, beyond the same sense of nogstalgia that we feel when we hear of some historical location being renovated/removed to make way for something better?

I may not be a Transhumanist [wikipedia.org] but I'm also not entirely certain trying to keep us as we are today is all that beneficial. Or that the ultimate end of the journey will be made with our footsteps.

Re:Grey goo (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763383)

Wherever you go, there you are.

Re:Grey goo (4, Insightful)

Gat0r30y (957941) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762695)

human beings to mere drones of a hive mind.

Would that really be much different from the way things are now? I'm not trying to be a dick, but in my view we tend to deny the fact that while we are individuals, the greater whole of humanity tends to behave quite like a hive. Look at a busy intersection for a while - we are social and quite hive-like.
I would say that we are a pretty successful mostly hairless ape - but we most likely aren't gonna make it. Something might make it, but I doubt it will be us (it might be related, but I don't think we would recognize it). In any case - this planet belongs to the bacteria and it always will, I'm just thankful they have let us hang around for this long.

Re:Grey goo (1)

HermDog (24570) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762729)

With the rise of nanotech, grey goo has always been a popular vision of the end of the world. After recently reading Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep [amazon.com] , however, what I'm more scared of is the combination of nanotech and AI that would reduce human beings to mere drones of a hive mind. Is the human race still human if it's subjugated to the will of our future digital overlords?

It doesn't matter as long as we keep forcing you to ask that question so you think it hasn't already happened.

Re:Grey goo (1)

Hellpop (451893) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762889)

Well, you should see an adequate simulation of this in the US gov't for the next 4 years.

Re:Grey goo (4, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762925)

Nanotech grey goo is doomed to impossibility. Why? Power. You can't extract energy from your environment by chewing up concrete and dirt and stuff. Notice how you don't see very many organisms eating dirt and rock? If you want real energy from the environment around you, you're stuck competing with bacteria, algae, fungi, plants, and what-not.

Real nanotech dangers are like "a bunch of small particles get in the environment and it's like some hybrid of mercury and asbestos" (in terms of accumulation of mercury and the damaging properties of asbestos).

Re:Grey goo (1)

eabrek (880144) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763363)

Nanotech grey goo is doomed to impossibility.

Carbon based life has little use for the silicon in dirt. Silicon based goo can convert it into solar panels...

Re:Grey goo (2, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763047)

They've (science fiction writers, newspaper reporters, even the people building them who should know better) been calling computers "thinking machines" and "electronic brains" since the existance of electronic computers.

Computers still don't think and I don't forsee them thinking; not digital computers, in any case. Thought and feeling are chemical processes, not binary arithemetic with NAND and NOR gates.

If we are controlled by computers, the computers will be controlled by men; the same rich, powerful, and evil men who control us now and who have always controlled us in the past.

The real Matrix will have a human archetecht. The real termnators will be controlled by humans. "Gray goo" is a fanciful concept that came out of someone's pipe, much like Von Daniken's aliens in the '70s.

Note that I'm a cyborg; the device does not control me, I control it.

There is very little that will be able to make us extinct in the next hundred years. We are in less danger of extinction than we ever were (and some fifty to a hundred thousand years ago humans almost did become extinct).

No need to worry about extinction, as the risk is infinitessimal and besides, you won't be around to see it anyway.

I, on the other hand, am certain to become extinct in the next fifty years.

Re:Grey goo (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763423)

Your interface to your device is physical, not neural. I guess the definition of cyborg is whatever it is going to be, but a guy swinging a hammer isn't a cyborg, and you just happen to be swinging this hammer with some muscles inside your eye.

Re:Grey goo (1)

Jeff Hornby (211519) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763467)

The average person watches something like four hours of television a day. Not to mention time spent, both at home and at work, in front of a computer. Throw in cell phones, iPods, PDAs, etc. and it begs the question: What's this about future digital overlords?

Reducing the risk of extinction, post-Zentradi era (3, Funny)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762421)

The general plan is to perform mass-cloning of the populace, and then send out hordes of colonization fleets to find habitable planets elsewhere in the galaxy... If we hit any rough territory, we'll just sing at the problem until it goes away!

Re:Reducing the risk of extinction, post-Zentradi (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762565)

This plan should be fine as long as we don't have any incompetent, egotistical, anal-retentiveness cowards who are in charging replacing faulty drive-plates in the ship's engine system. I mean what could go wrong?

Re:Reducing the risk of extinction, post-Zentradi (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762829)

That's easy enough to work around. Just use an engine that doesn't require drive-plates. ;)

Re:Reducing the risk of extinction, post-Zentradi (1)

gnick (1211984) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762937)

This plan should be fine as long as we don't have any incompetent, egotistical, anal-retentiveness cowards who are in charging replacing faulty drive-plates in the ship's engine system. I mean what could go wrong?

Even that would be OK if we made sure that coward had a partner to look over his shoulder. Of course, if that partner were to somehow get himself tossed into stasis for a ship infraction leaving the incompetent coward to do the job himself, who knows where it would lead? The only hope then would be self-insemination of the last surviving human or reassembly of the dead by nano-bots. And that would just be silly.

Re:Reducing the risk of extinction, post-Zentradi (2, Funny)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762983)

If only that partner had a cat. Preferably a pregnant cat.

Better plan (4, Funny)

MarkGriz (520778) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763335)

"Hello there ladies. Would any of you be interested in participating in my scientific experiment to reduce the risk of human extinction?"

some animal species that are about to go extinct (2, Insightful)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762441)

might actually think that this is a wonderful concept.

To quote George Carlin: "The earth will shrug us off like a bad case of fleas, a surface nuisance".

Re:some animal species that are about to go extinc (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762495)

I hope it does, as then we'd have more motivation to colonize other earths. :D

Re:some animal species that are about to go extinc (2, Insightful)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763037)

some animal species that are about to go extinct might actually think that this is a wonderful concept.

Well then, they should have invented their own firearms and started "deurbanizing" our habitats to make way for their own purposes!

Let's Get a New Dominant Species On This Planet! (1)

loose electron (699583) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762479)

Hmmm.... Maybe some other species could make a better go of it! Now who do we hand the baton off to?

Re:Let's Get a New Dominant Species On This Planet (1)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762575)

We should prolly start teaching goats how to do all that cloning and stem cell stuff. Or dogs, they go apeshit when you come home - I'm sure they'd be eager to help.

Re:Let's Get a New Dominant Species On This Planet (2, Informative)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762855)

I don't know why but the term "go apeshit" always makes me laugh...

Re:Let's Get a New Dominant Species On This Planet (1)

rla3rd (596810) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762797)

Sharks, with friggin' lasers on their heads!

Re:Let's Get a New Dominant Species On This Planet (2, Interesting)

geckipede (1261408) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762811)

Depending on how you want to define complexity, it took between one and two billion years to go from complex multicellular life to an intelligent species. Even if we assume you need a fairly high power metabolism for it, there have certainly been plenty of candidates for technological intelligence over the last 300 million years, but only one species actually managed it. Given that we've got about 500 million years of useful life left in this planet, the chances of another civilisation rising on Earth before the sun swells up and kills us is pretty slim.

Re:Let's Get a New Dominant Species On This Planet (4, Funny)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763159)

APES! We should give the planet to apes!
Now we just need to figure out what to call the new planted. I suggest Ape World.

Bogus use of statistics (1)

ebcdic (39948) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762489)

The high "expected value" is irrelevant. The only reason for trying to maximise the expected value is that under some circumstances it is a reasonable proxy the actual value - in particular, in cases where you repeatedly take the "bet" so that in the long term the law of averages (really the laws of large numbers) applies. That's not the case here.

Summary of the article (4, Informative)

greenguy (162630) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762517)

We could all die!!! But we probably won't. At least not right away.

On the other hand, who cares? (4, Interesting)

apathy maybe (922212) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762541)

I honestly don't give two figs if humanity goes extinct (I certainly won't after the event).

Sure, if it happens while I'm alive, there maybe some un-avoidable pain and suffering for myself, but if it happens after I'm dead, well, I'll be dead.

Dead people can't suffer.

Anyway, extinction is a natural part of evolution, adapt or die motherfuckers, adapt and die. Yes, change from or to and is deliberate, because we are all going to die.

---

Anyway, onto the actual scenarios. From the introduction:

Projections of climate change and influenza pandemics, coupled with the damage caused by recent tsunamis, hurricanes, and terrorist attacks,

None of these things is going to wipe out each and every human, nor even enough humans to make the population enviable. Unless climate change is really, really dramatic (in which case, there is nothing we can do about it anyway). And to talk about flu... Viruses have never killed more than 70% of a given population (number pulled from the air, probably less, Wikipedia says The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe's population. [wikipedia.org] ). Oh, and terrorism. Scary shit that.

Then we get onto astronomical events, comets, solar flares and stuff, and the paper goes on and on.

Basically, we are all going to die, humanity is going to go extinct (if nothing else, the heat death of the universe will get us), and to think about the issue with any great thought is probably a waste of time.

Re:On the other hand, who cares? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25762813)

You know, I always encounter this sentiment (or lack thereof), and I can only rationalize it as some sort of perverted self-loathing of the human race.

Life is a suicide mission. You just keep going and going until you croak.

But we do it anyway.

We survive. We thrive. We are compelled to persevere, even when nature does everything in its power to destroy us.

Why? Because we must.

Because if we don't, then everything we have accomplished will be for nothing.

It may sound altruistic, but I do care about the future of the human race. Because if no one else did before us, we would never live today.

We didn't crawl out of a pond so you could throw it all away.

Re:On the other hand, who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25762841)

I can't help but think of the parallel between us as a species and us as individuals. We die and as a goal of our existence create a legacy. The "I was here" - be that in the form of art, being a major player in history, or merely fathering children, it has to have a parallel on a species scale. Will we create a successor to humanity? Will we leave our mark on the universe so at the end of time, should any sentience exist, we will be acknowledged as having been great artist, warlords, or peacemakers? At the end of time will we be responsible for making God and starting everything over again?

Think Isaac Asimov's "Last Question."
http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html

Re:On the other hand, who cares? (4, Funny)

Gat0r30y (957941) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763089)

Basically, we are all going to die, humanity is going to go extinct (if nothing else, the heat death of the universe will get us), and to think about the issue with any great thought is probably a waste of time.

Thankfully this is perfectly in line with my new investment strategy - Hookers, Blow, Jack Daniels and the Craps Table.

Old news (5, Insightful)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762559)

Slashdot readers already know the best disaster recovery policy is to have multiple off-site backups. A human being is just a strand of DNA's mechanism for replicating itself; that DNA needs to figure out how to store copies of itself in enough places so that it is impossible to wipe out all the copies in any possible disaster. In short, we need to stop keeping all our eggs in this one little basket called "Earth".

Offsite backups (1)

serutan (259622) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762669)

Reminds me of a Phil Dick story in which people send copies of themselves on hazardous space missions. The original person sits safely at home on Earth, while the disposable duplicate with all the same skills and experience goes off and risks life and limb. Wish I could remember the title.

Re:Offsite backups (2, Interesting)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762973)

I don't know the Dick story, but Sean Williams and Shane Dix wrote their Orphans of Earth trilogy about a similar concept.

Re:Old news (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763421)

Spreading out into space will have an even greater effect [than Columbus's voyage to the New World]. It will completely change the future of the human race -- and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.

-- Stephen Hawking [xprize.org]

missed geeks favorite disasters (5, Funny)

Coraon (1080675) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762583)

Things like a zombie apocalypse or raptors being resurrected and running amok. We need plans for dealing with those issues too.

Re:missed geeks favorite disasters (1)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762759)

Personally, my plan is to supply the zombies/raptors with weapons and tactical advice.

Re:missed geeks favorite disasters (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25763221)

I'm going to buck the trend and not post the obligatory XKCD for this. Go look it up yourselves.

Judgement Day (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25762593)

It is inevitable.

I for one, welcome our new Skynet overlords!

Overshoot (5, Insightful)

lobiusmoop (305328) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762607)

Given that the world population shot up by a factor of 4 in the last 100 years, mainly due to fossil fuel usage which won't last even another 100 years, I think some kind of near-term die-off is inevitable. However, I'd suggest that the lower the human population, the less stress as a whole the population is under as more per-capita resource with less competition is available, so complete extinction would become less and less likely as the population drops.

Re:Overshoot (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762697)

Except many of the scenarios described involve situations that aren't dependent on the world population, such as freak asteroids and self replicating nano-goo.

Re:Overshoot (1)

lionheart1327 (841404) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762853)

You know, there are other sources of energy. Fossil fuels are simply the first ones discovered because they're really really easy to use. You just basically set them on fire. Now, using this energy source and the advances that it has allowed we will progress to using more complicated but much more long-lasting sources of energy. Don't worry, our population will keep going up.

Re:Overshoot (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763275)

so complete extinction would become less and less likely as the population drops.

Carried to an absurd extreme, this suggests that we are least likely to go extinct if there is only one human living.

Note also that this principle would tend to suggest that all the animals on the Endangered Species List are LEAST likely to go extinct, because their populations are lowest. Which, in turn, suggests that the cockroach is in more danger of extinction than even humans, much less the endangered animals.

Given a quick look at reality, I suggest that you rethink your theory a bit.

Re:Overshoot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25763387)

I think the massive increase in human population has successfully eradicated other forms of predators.

Now we mostly need to worry about the human element. Nuclear war was a close call, the next close call will probably be a societal mono-culture (ala Brave New World, Facism and/or socialist multiculturalism).

As humanity faces new problems societies solve those problems sharing the solutions with other groups, this seems to inevitably lead to a mono-culture.

Conformity may not be extinction but you can see it's affects on adaptability of plants to new pathogens or changing environment.

Quit putting idiots near big red buttons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25762671)

See Stimpson J Cat and the History Eraser Button and/or current Commander in Chief in White House....

Speaking of which, picture Cheney rolling Bush back and forth and saying in the announcer voice "The beautiful, shiny button. The jolly, candy-like button!". Cue cold sweat...

One event... (1)

Shivinski (1053538) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762673)

"In this century a number of events could extinguish humanity"

Is one of them CowboyNeal...

Maybe (3, Insightful)

DrugCheese (266151) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762685)

Just maybe, some alien race might discover that eating a human prolongs their life, or cures some previously incurable disease...

You'd think we'd be exploring space like crazy with the resources (not money) that we have ... but i guess since there are no indigenous people there to exploit ...

But the longer humanity is confined to this single celestial body we're literally keeping all our eggs in one basket.

Bush and Cheney have a plan (-1, Offtopic)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762731)

They've got a sure-fire plan - "We'll kill off humanity to save it."

Re:Bush and Cheney have a plan (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763445)

Well, you know, we have these forest fires because we haven't been cutting down the trees....

the greatest threat to the species (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762749)

is the species

humanity itself is its own greatest enemy

in all other species, the idea is optimization of genes expressed for maximum survival. it's a feedback loop that has worked very well for billions of years

however, in humanity, with our brains and our language and our civilization, our biological survival has become of secondary importance to the survival of our memes. we sacrifice for larger ideas. suicide bombers will sacrifice that which genetic imperative considers the ultimate sin: extinguishing of life before reproduction. but from a meme's point of view, if it reinforces an idea's survival, its a good thing. memes are kind of like genes in that they look for maximum expression, but unlike genes in that they don't care if we actually survive

therefore, you could have a meme propogate in civilization that embraces our own extinction. nihilism is an example of a meme which embraces the meaningless of life and pointlessness of survival, for example. just look at the tags on the slashdot summary: "letthemdienews". there are a lot of people out there for whom cynicism and learned helplessness has led to not caring and even actively embrace our extinction

humanity as a biological entity, a growth, if you will, has done remarkably well. 7 billion is a good number in terms of judging success for the large mammals that we are. our brains and our tool use has allowed us to survive in the tundra and in the desert. we've done really good as animals so far

but our memes, a recent development in civilization that has not stood the test of time and has no direct genetic allegory, has no real stake in the survival of the biological organism which creates them with our language

Re:the greatest threat to the species (1)

Peaker (72084) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762947)

You keep the meme of kuro5hin alive... :-)

Re:the greatest threat to the species (1)

dlsmith (993896) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763115)

On the other hand, we would not be who we are without our ability to sacrifice self-interest for a higher cause. Sure, there are suicide bombers. There are also WWII soldiers. Gandi and Mother Teresa. Muhammad and Jesus. Great art and literature. Computers, space exploration, and vaccines. Democracy and human rights.

Reduce humanity to a bunch of drones concerned exclusively with biological survival, and I think all those things go away.

absolutely, 100% true (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763185)

sacrificing biologically for a good meme is absolutely valid

but all those good memes won't mean a thing if a bad meme is also allowed to propagate

i'm not aruging against the idea of sacrificing for a meme, i'm arguing against the idea of sacrificing for a bad meme

where "bad meme" is any that could result in our extinction

such as religious extremism, or nihilism. both armageddeon and the meaningless of life are ideas that are self-fulfilling prophecies

and whereas genetic has a pretty good track record of weeding out bad genes, civilization's existence is too short to fully understand if it has the mechanisms for weeding out bad ideas, or fatal ideas

Re:the greatest threat to the species (1)

MikeDirnt69 (1105185) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763237)

humanity itself is its own greatest enemy

You talk like a wise-old man found in any poor literature.

And I talk like a Troll, found in any /. thread.

Sorry, I'm bored, again.

There is zero chance of extinction (5, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762801)

Over the next billion years or so. Zero.

There is no doubt that 99.99% of the population could be wiped out by a cataclysm. That's probably worth ... considering. But killing 99.99% of the world's population leaves over 600,000 individuals alive. Individuals of a species so adaptable that it can thrive everywhere from the deserts of the Kalihari to the coast of Greenland.

Humanity is a weed species. In fact, we're the weed species. We thrive relative to other species on disruption. Rats and cockroaches are just hangers on. They are Kato to our OJ, hitching a ride on our exploitation of new niches opened by environmental cataclysm. Every kind of cataclysm that could possibly be prepared for wiould only in a very short time convert the world into a storehouse of underutilized resources for the survivors. Those survivors might not have much fun, at least in the short term, but people are amazingly adaptable. Hell should hold not terrors for humanity, because it won't take anything like an eternity for anything to seem normal to people.

The only way to cause human extinction is to manage to kill everyone at one go. Things like a the Sun going unexpectedly nova, or some kind of unforseen astronomical radiation burst that sterilizes everything. Stuff you couldn't possibly prepare for.

Of the things you can prepare for, things like plague, the reason to prepare for them isn't the survival of the species. It's the survival of society. We have it pretty good, after all, and it wouldn't take much in those cases to take out a significant amount of insurance for our way of life.

There is non-zero finite chance of extinction (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763149)

Yeah, and the Romans thought the Empire would last a thousand years. Greater than 99.99% of all species have gone extinct, most of them lasting no more than a few million years, some far less than that. No species is so tough to live through their food getting wiped out or dropping below the minimum population to maintain genetic diversity.

Re:There is non-zero finite chance of extinction (2, Informative)

El Torico (732160) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763351)

Yeah, and the Romans thought the Empire would last a thousand years.

It did; the Eastern Roman Empire a.k.a. the Byzantine Empire didn't come to an end until 1453 when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire.

Re:There is non-zero finite chance of extinction (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763353)

Yeah, and the Romans thought the Empire would last a thousand years.

If one includes the Eastern Roman Empire (arguably more Greek than Roman), then they were quite correct - the Empire lasted until at least 1204, rather longer than 1000 years.

We can build three arks (2, Funny)

boyfaceddog (788041) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762817)

All the statistitions and the fear mongers on 'B' ark, please.

Extinction (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762831)

Humanity will likely kill itself off because they can't agree who gets to shower first in the morning. We've fought wars over one city taking a girl from another city (Troy, and nobody cared that she wanted to leave), we fight over liquid dinosaur guts, over patches of barren desert. We've even fought over things that are completely intangible -- fascism versus communism versus capitalism versus god only knows what else. And we're constantly creating ways to kill ever greater numbers of people. During WWII, the Germans were stuffing people into giant incinerators, when they weren't busy leveling entire cities with fire bombs (and vice versa), and the war ended because the Americans came up with a better way to kill people -- a nuclear bomb. Well, what's going to come after the nuclear bomb? Trust me when I say, there are scientists right now in a laboratory somewhere thinking to themselves -- will my children ever forgive me? Not that any of this is really necessary; the survivors will quite happily keep throwing rocks at each other in the post-apocalypse. Our only hope of salvation will be figuring out why humanity abjectly fails to evolve better methods of conflict resolution and then putting us on the path to doing so. It doesn't help that men who stomp around tearing up grass and biting the heads of their enemies off somehow leads to reproductive success. I'm told it's because they're attractive when they do that. -_-

Not with a bang, but with a whimper (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762839)

OK. Let's assume that everything that's been worked on for 50 years and still doesn't work isn't going to work. This includes fusion and space travel.

Industrial civilization is only about 200 years old. It's convenient to start at 1808, the first year somebody bought a train ticket. That was when the industrial revolution started affecting large numbers of people. Does industrial civilization have another 200 years left?

We're running out of oil. The optimistic position is that peak oil is 20 years away. The pessimistic position is that peak oil was two years ago. Few think there's 50 years of oil left. There's really nothing on the energy horizon big enough to replace oil. All the alternatives are considerably more expensive, and have a lower return on energy invested vs. energy out.

We're running out of some other minerals. There are substitutes, and recycling, but using a substitute is usually more energy intensive.

It's quite possible that industrial civilization will just run down. This has already happened in a number of Third World countries. A few countries, such as Argentina, have already gone from rich to poor. The usual pattern is devolution into rich central cities surrounded by an ocean of poverty. Mexico City and Rio are classic examples.

That may be the future.

Re:Not with a bang, but with a whimper (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763079)

People have been claiming peak oil since the 1920s. We've had several oil crises since then, each one followed by a glut. The life expectancy of oil has only grown, and faster than our consumption. The truth is, we really don't know how much more oil there is, and those who claim peak oil don't read history.

The planet is a finite size (1)

fantomas (94850) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763451)

Earth is a finite size so surely we run out of everything eventually? Or at least, we get to the situation where accessing valuable resources costs so much that the vast majority of humanity has to do without them?

Maybe we get lucky and all have limitless wealth and live in great big houses with personal rockets and acres of lush gardens once we've discovered pocket nuclear power stations or whatever but alas I worry it's more like a lesser developed country global model ahead - a few very wealthy people living well, maintained by security who get some benefits from keeping them in that state, and many, many people in a dirt poor marginal existence.

Here's hoping for that glorious space civilisation a lot of us dreamed of rather than the polluted dystyopian "Make Room, Make Room" future we fear...

Re:Not with a bang, but with a whimper (2, Interesting)

recharged95 (782975) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763235)

"There's really nothing on the energy horizon big enough to replace oil."

.

True, assuming there's nothing else in space.

Think bigger, think space. Plenty of energy there (solar/magnetic/heat), and other planets/moon too. Move the bulk of energy consuming processes to space and you'll likely see an efficiency increase and energy consumption decrease. And you can always ship energy back to Earth easily at that point.

.

Space is the final frontier.

Re:Not with a bang, but with a whimper (1)

dachshund (300733) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763339)

We're running out of oil. The optimistic position is that peak oil is 20 years away. The pessimistic position is that peak oil was two years ago. Few think there's 50 years of oil left. There's really nothing on the energy horizon big enough to replace oil. All the alternatives are considerably more expensive, and have a lower return on energy invested vs. energy out ... It's quite possible that industrial civilization will just run down.

There's more than enough available energy to avoid the doomsday scenario you're talking about. Nuclear (with breeder reactor technology) can sustain us for hundreds of years. There's plenty of coal, and a lot of expensive oil out there if we don't care about emissions. Similarly, it's been noted that the entire US's electricity requirements could be met by approximately 20 mi^2 worth of solar thermal reactor located in the south of the United States. Even if we ultimately had to generate all of our energy from renewable technology, we could increase our total energy output by many times over what oil is giving us now.

And these are just the technologies that we have today, which produce energy that's marginally more expensive (i.e., less than double) what we're paying to extract and haul oil. They may be a lot less convenient (i.e., solar output depends on the weather and time of day), but we'll engineer around these things if the alternative is the destruction of industrial society. Given that Europe was able to rebuild from WWII in less than fifty years, I'm confident that the world can handle this situation as well.

Re:Not with a bang, but with a whimper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25763341)

All the alternatives are considerably more expensive, and have a lower return on energy invested vs. energy out.

Nuclear power?

Re:Not with a bang, but with a whimper (2, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763431)

The optimistic position is that peak oil is 20 years away. The pessimistic position is that peak oil was two years ago. Few think there's 50 years of oil left.

That's not so bad then. In the 70's we only had less than 10 years of oil left. Now we have 50 years worth. We've gaind 40 years worth of oil in the last 30 years!

Skynet and Judgement Day (1)

zomper514 (235646) | more than 5 years ago | (#25762927)

Farther out in time are risks from technologies that remain theoretical but might be developed in the next century or centuries. For instance, self-replicating nanotechnologies could destroy the ecosystem; and cognitive enhancements or recursively self-improving computers could exceed normal human ingenuity to create uniquely powerful weapons (Bostrom, 2002; Bostrom & Cirkovic, 2007; Ikle, 2006; Joy, 2000; Leslie, 1996; Posner, 2004; Rees, 2003).

Farther out in time, I thought Judgement day was 8/29/1997.

Anyone who read the Dune Chronicles knows... (1)

ErisCalmsme (212887) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763017)

it's all very simple, if we just follow Leto's golden path.

Re:Anyone who read the Dune Chronicles knows... (3, Insightful)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763067)

Frankly, if Leto's Golden Path leads to any more Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson Dune novels I say we just go along with our extinction.

Too expensive (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763065)

Not worth the cost.
Not worth the trouble.
Not worth the worry.
Planet's better off without 'em.

not IF merely WHEN (0)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763071)

Humanity WILL go extinct - it's a question of WHEN not IF.

We could go POOF from nuclear weapons or an asteroid strike, but then, so would a number of other species. Like my cats - little fuckers would starve if I didn't feed them... fat little bastards.

I see it this way: we either go extinct WITH issue (i.e., we evolve into another species) or we go extinct WITHOUT issue (nukes / asteroids / 100% deadly plague / solar flare / nano goo).

It's much like the coming de-population process. We can get rid of 5 or 6 billion people in two very different ways, and it has to do with how YOU want to die:

at a young(er) age of starvation / exposure / thirst in some transit camp in eastern oregon or in food riots in some over populated rat hole of a city, OR peacefully at home surrounded by friends and family.

We all have to go - so it's just a question of HOW not IF, and WHEN not IF.

RS

Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (2, Informative)

juancnuno (946732) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763075)

I thought this [wikipedia.org] was interesting.

How to reduce the risk of human extinction (1, Interesting)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763157)

#1 Find a new fuel instead of oil and fossil fuels.

#2 Get rid of hatred and bigotry and racism.

#3 Invest in Fringe Science to create future technology and not let some asshole scientists holding up progress with flawed theories that they cherrypicked data or did fraud like Piltdown man that prevent us from having rapid progress in improving our technology for cleaning up the environment (Terraforming) space travel (Earth will be crowded we need to make a few colonies)

#4 Creating floating cities and under water cities to help with population growth.

#5 Until we can replace oil, why are polar bears more important than human beings? We either can save the polar bears and make humans extinct or drill for oil and natural gas in the Alaskan wilderness to get enough oil until we can invent a replacement for it. Save the Polar Bear DNA so when he invent cloning we can recreate the polar bears and the Dodo and other extinct animals.

#6 Fight terrorism by following the money trails and bank accounts they use to pay off members to do suicide bombings. Make it an International law to shut down any bank account that pays terrorists and prosecute the owners. The same for donating to fake Islamic charities that fund terrorism by giving money to Sheiks and Clerics that launder it for terrorist networks. Terrorist networks work like a business, so just shut off their bank accounts and money and they won't afford to be in business any more.

#7 Learn ancient skills like pottery, black smithing, leather working, wood working, etc so in case civilization collapses we can have experts to help rebuild it using ancient technologies that don't need oil or electricity. Study the Amish and other groups that do this so in case the rest of us can survive an economic collapse and post-oil world with no alternative to oil.

#8 Set up more charities that help poor people and people with disabilities and mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addictions. Teach them how to be responsible and sober and think clearly and be able to go back into the work force or start up their own small businesses to help stimulate the economy.

#9 Get governments to stick to a budget by cutting pork spending and useless programs, leave the taxes alone, but control spending, end useless wars and stop trying to protect people from their own bad decisions and bad behavior and bad actions, and let them learn from the consequences of them, so they can avoid them in the future, Tough love, but if they spent $50,000 in credit cards for useless crap and then could not afford a house payment, they are too stupid to bail out. The same for banks who didn't verify that they made what they claimed they made they claimed $45,000 a year but only earned $15,000 a year, and banks that gave them loans and mortgages are too stupid to allow to stay in business. Let them fail and eat their own mistakes. Why should the rest of us, responsible people, pay more taxes and lower the currency value to bail out stupid people so they can rip us off again 5 to 10 years later with the same "scam"? The bailouts are a Ponzi scheme that ruins the stock market and economy and ruin the US dollar's value and cause inflation and unemployment to rise, stop them!

#10 Find a better way to rehabilitate criminals, most of them are repeat offenders. Learn from Europe and Australia and other nations that do not have the crime repeat offender rates the USA has.

Minus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25763181)

Does one risk prevention involve standing on a hill with a baseball bat? [kiwisbybeat.com]

It's long overdue... (1)

XB-70 (812342) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763233)

As a species, we are the first ones to examine the workings of and try to control our ecosystem. That, coupled with a rapacious appetite for procreation and you have a situation that could only be described as Darwinian (or Rapa Nuian). Put more and more rats in a given area with a limited allotment of resources and bad things will start to happen. Swirl in disease, greed, world-wide migration (airlines) coupled with comparatively low transportation costs not to mention war and terrorism and an already full boat (Earth) is starting to take on water at the gunwales.

For my part, I am thrilled. No one is pushing the message that we need to stop filling the world with babies. It goes against human nature, but it's going to have to be done if we want to continue to exist.

The big question is: will we evolve quickly enough to achieve this or will we rush over the precipice like lemmings holding our legions of babies as we crash to our inevitable doom?

Bottom line: Gents, go for the big 'V' and adopt. Ladies, have one and one only to satisfy your maternal cravings, then get a tubal ligation.

root question (1)

rodentia (102779) | more than 5 years ago | (#25763255)

the expected value of preventing them could be high, as it represents the value of all future human lives.

Cuts right to the chase, don't it? The value of all future human lives, indeed. Expressed as what, wish units? The projected value of all future human lives is precisely nil. Or the universe of possible value. Or both at the same time. Far more productive to spend the money on remedial large number training and statistics/reality differentiation.

Idiotic Article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25763433)

Extinction is not the same thing as a mass die out where we lose our technology. To think that any of these events are going to kill ALL humans and not just a high percent is insane. Even 99.99% of humans gone is NOT extinction. We can repopulate.

Since humans are smart I would even give us a higher chance of surviving these events compared to other animals who have been surviving this list of possible events for much longer than humans have even existed.

I think that humans as we know them can easily become extinct, like this article says, but not the actual biology of a human.

Long term we are fucked though.

Move to Madagascar (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25763455)

It's the only way to be sure.

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